Sinn Féin receive almost £800k more from will of Billy Hampton

Sinn Féin has received another large donation of £800,000 from the same deceased donor who had already left the party more than £2m.

The party received the first portion of the money in 2019 in the will of 82-year-old Englishman, Billy Hampton.

Mr Hampton, a former market trader, died in 2018 in Wales.

The £2.9m windfall to date is the largest known donation to a political party in Northern Ireland from a single donor.

The first tranche of the money – £1.5m – was announced in September 2019, followed by about £500,000 later that year.

According to the Electoral Commission, which on Thursday published political party donations for the first three months of 2021, the extra £800,000 in cash was accepted on 10 February.

When details of Mr Hampton’s donations emerged in 2019, questions arose about his mental health.

It is believed he had a psychiatric history. Many years ago, he spent time in a psychiatric unit.

His father, Tim Hampton, was a wealthy businessman who had significant commercial interests in the village of Fenstanton in Cambridgeshire.

According to Billy Hampton’s friends, he was unhappy during his life because he could not access all the inheritance he felt he was entitled in a single lump sum.

As a result, friend Dave Morton said Mr Hampton decided to leave his own fortune to Sinn Féin “out of spite” and “to say ‘up you’ to the British establishment”.

Up until his death, he had led a nomadic existence living in a camper van and travelling around the UK, Europe and further afield.

Mr Hampton made his will in 1997 when he was living in a caravan in County Cavan.

According to a copy of it, the executors and trustees were former IRA chief-of-staff Joe Cahill and another republican called Dessie Mackin.

In one letter written in France in 2001, Mr Hampton wrote: “I am much less paranoid than normal, and do not suffer from a persecution complex at all here in France.”

In the same letter, written four years after he wrote his will, he said: “Sinn Féin will not speak to me now for security reasons.”

The party has erected a memorial stone in his honour at a cemetery in Hannahstown, County Antrim.

The inscription reads: “True friend of Ireland. Remembered by his true friends and comrades in Sinn Féin.”

Separately, the Alliance Party received £12,500 in donations in the same period, according to the Electoral Commission.

Northern Ireland’s six political parties registered reported accepting a total of £1,070,999 in donations and public funds in the first quarter of 2021.

Brexit: UK government knew NI Protocol was a bad deal

Theresa May’s former chief of staff is “pretty sure it’s not true” that the government underestimated the impact of the NI Protocol when it agreed to it.

The protocol is the part of the Brexit deal that creates a trade border between Northern Ireland and GB.

Brexit Minister Lord Frost wrote at the weekend that the UK had “underestimated the effect of the protocol on goods movements to Northern Ireland”.

But Lord Barwell said Boris Johnson’s government “knew it was a bad deal”.

They “agreed it to get Brexit done”, he argued.

Lord Barwell was Mrs May’s senior advisor from 2017 until 2019 and was heavily involved in her Brexit policy.

He added that, in his view, Mr Johnson’s government had intended “to wriggle out of” the protocol later.

A UK government impact assessment published shortly after the protocol was agreed in 2019 did say that businesses could expect additional cost and complexity when moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Lord Frost, who negotiated the protocol, wrote in the Financial Times that the UK was implementing it but that the EU needed to show less “legal purism”.

He said that in the past week, the UK had sent a “detailed proposal” for a veterinary agreement, based on equivalence, and for an authorised trader scheme to reduce paperwork and checks.

But, he said, “we have had very little back” from the EU.

He added: “The EU needs a new playbook for dealing with neighbours, one that involves pragmatic solutions between friends, not the imposition of one side’s rules on the other and legal purism.”

Lord Frost is due to meet European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic in London on Wednesday.

The men are due to assess what progress has been made in technical talks aimed at simplifying the operation of the protocol.

Those talks are covering around 30 issues ranging from VAT on used cars, to pet travel and the movement of food products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

UK officials believe that viable solutions are in sight for perhaps two issues, with partial solutions possible in maybe half a dozen other areas.

But the two sides are still far apart on the majority of issues, particularly the possibility of an agri-food agreement.

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney tweeted that Lord Frost had continued to “lay blame for difficulty” with the protocol on EU inflexibility, but that “this is simply not the case”.

“Maros Sefcovic & EU have consistently proposed new solutions,” he added. “Is this about media messaging in UK or really solving problems together?”

In response to that Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster, the former leader of the DUP, tweeted that Mr Coveney was “just parroting EU commission briefings” which suggested he was “not so interested” in attempts to find solutions.

Arlene Foster: What is next for the deposed DUP leader?

As she’s about to leave one stage, Arlene Foster is eyeing another.

Defying her sometimes austere image she’s begun to quote Sinatra – or rather his song That’s Life.

“That’s Life. That’s what all the people say. You’re riding high in April, shot down in May,” go the lyrics.

Strictly speaking she was “shot down” in April but it’s close enough to describe a downfall as sudden as it was brutal.

But the fact she can joke about it shows she’s come to terms with what happened, if not forgiven the manner of it.

As Edwin Poots is discovering, there may be worse things than not leading the badly-fractured Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Upstairs in the grand ballroom of Belfast’s Crowne Plaza Hotel last Thursday night, as he waited to be confirmed as Arlene Foster’s successor, mutiny was in the air.

Elsewhere in the hotel she dined alone on salmon and wheaten bread, a ghost at the feast.

Then she emerged into the hotel foyer to join myself and Tracey Magee, political editor of UTV.

We weren’t expecting her, though neither were we exactly surprised.

She wasn’t hiding the fact she is bitterly disappointed.

But if it’s possible to enjoy your own funeral that’s what is happening to Arlene Foster.

She eventually left us to go and vote.

Then like Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Nigel and Diane Dodds, Gregory Campbell, Gavin Robinson and Lord Willie Hay she went home before Mr Poots’ speech began.

As she did so she flashed a “V-sign” for the cameras. For peace or for victory wasn’t quite clear.

What Arlene Foster will do now is the subject of almost as much speculation as what her nemesis Edwin Poots will do, such is the state of flux unionism finds itself in.

At just 50 she’s six years younger than him.

She says she has had offers but refuses to say what they are.

She’ll almost certainly become a figurehead for the fight against online abuse of high profile women in politics.

Last Thursday her name was splashed across the UK press.

Not for her travails with the DUP but for the record £125,000 damages awarded to her in a massive libel action against TV doctor Christian Jessen.

She has changed her Twitter name to @ArleneFosterUK taking with her the 95k people who followed her at @DUPleader which has become, fittingly, a parody account.

A peerage is a distinct possibility.

It won’t come now from the DUP. But could it come from Boris Johnson, the man she mistakenly trusted when he told her there would be no border down the Irish Sea.

She may feel he owes her that at least.

Could she even find herself back in elective politics via some overdue realignment of unionism?

It’s unlikely, but after what happened to the DUP at the Crowne Plaza there no longer seems to be a home there for many more people than simply Arlene Foster alone.

The next morning she visited Banbridge Academy and received the kind of reception reserved for rock stars, or at least political ones.

If this is her farewell lap she’s milking it to some effect.

And the moment she steps down as first minister, Edwin Poots has seven days to strike a deal with Sinn Féin which may be in the mood to extract maximum political advantage.

As Sinatra might say regrets, she’s had a few.

But those who deposed her may yet have more.

Listen to the BBC Newscast interview with Arlene Foster on BBC Sounds.

Sturgeon has no concern over SNP finances despite row

Nicola Sturgeon has said she is “not concerned” about the SNP’s finances despite two members of the party’s governing body resigning.

And she said “every penny” of a crowdfunder for independence would be spent on a referendum campaign.

Douglas Chapman quit as SNP treasurer saying he had not been given enough financial information to do the job.

Fellow MP Joanna Cherry also resigned from the party’s management board amid a row over “transparency and scrutiny”.

However Ms Sturgeon insisted there was “full scrutiny” of the SNP’s finances, which she said were independently audited and sent to the Electoral Commission.

And she said no money had gone missing in light of a complaint to the police over the whereabouts of cash donated for pro-independence campaigning.

The party’s most recent accounts showed that it had about £96,000 in the bank at the end of 2019, and total net assets of about £272,000.

The SNP brought in a total of £5.3m and spent £5.6m that year.

Ms Cherry resigned from the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) on Monday, saying that a number of factors had prevented her from “improving transparency and scrutiny”.

This echoed criticism from Mr Chapman, who quit two days earlier saying he had “not received the support or financial information to carry out the fiduciary duties of National Treasurer”.

Asked about this, Ms Sturgeon said she was “not concerned about the party’s finances”.

She said: “The finances of the SNP are independently audited, our accounts are sent to the EC in common with other parties, and published, so there’s full scrutiny around that.”

The first minister also addressed concerns about cash donated by activists for pro-independence campaigning, insisting that “money hasn’t gone missing”.

The SNP frequently uses crowdfunding to finance its campaigning.

Many of its local campaigns around Scotland for May’s Holyrood election used online fundraising platforms, with the effort to re-elect John Swinney in Perthshire North gathering more than £15,000.

However there has been controversy over some fundraising which was said to be specifically for pro-independence campaigning, but which is not separated out within the party’s accounts.

The SNP launched a fundraising website in 2017 as part of a drive for a new independence referendum, aiming to bring in £1m in donations.

Almost £500,000 was reportedly raised, and while the website was taken down in the wake of that year’s general election – which saw the SNP lose 21 seats – the party said the cash “will only be used for the specific purpose of an referendum campaign”.

Six months ago, candidates critical of Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership won a block of seats on the SNP’s ruling body – the NEC – and other key party committees.

Some wanted greater priority given to independence. Some wanted a more cautious approach to reform of the gender recognition Act. Others raised concerns about how the party dealt with harassment complaints against Alex Salmond.

Some of those elected – including the party’s womens’ and equalities convenors and the MP Neale Hanvey – have since quit the SNP for Mr Salmond’s Alba party.

The MP Douglas Chapman was among those who stayed to pursue internal reforms as party treasurer. But his decision to quit, complaining about a lack of information over party finances, has alarmed some in the party.

One NEC member told me there would be “a lot of questions” for party officials at their next meeting later this month. A new treasurer will also have to be found to sign off the party’s annual accounts.

The party has run further referendum campaign crowdfunders since, including one in 2019 which aimed to elicit donations to distribute pro-independence literature to every household in Scotland.

Some independence activists have complained that this “ring-fenced” money does not appear separately in the SNP’s accounts and could therefore be used for day-to-day expenses.

A complaint was submitted to Police Scotland about it in March, which the force said was “being assessed to determine if an investigation is required”.

Ms Sturgeon said that while the money was not held in a separate account, “every penny” of it would be spent on the independence campaign.

She said: “Money hasn’t gone missing – all money goes through the SNP accounts, which are independently and fully audited.

“We don’t hold separate accounts, we are under no legal requirement to do that. Our accounts are managed on a cash flow basis.

“Every penny we raise to support the campaign for independence will be spent on the campaign for independence.”

Edwin Poots defends DUP strategy after Peter Robinson criticism

Edwin Poots has defended his strategy as the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) new leader after criticism by one of his predecessors, Peter Robinson.

Writing in the News Letter, the ex-leader and former first minister said decisions being made by those advising Mr Poots “can only damage his prospects of moving the party forward”.

Mr Poots rejected that comment, saying Mr Robinson was “out of the loop”.

“What was good for Peter doesn’t seem to be good for anybody else,” he said.

Insisting his leadership would differ from that of Arlene Foster, who he has replaced at the helm of the party, Mr Poots said: “What you’re going to see is incremental change.

“Step by step we will ensure that the fortunes of the party are better and the fortunes of unionism per se are better,” he told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

Last week, the DUP endorsed an earlier vote by assembly members and MPs to make Mr Poots leader.

But it came amid anger from within the party about how Mrs Foster was ousted last month.

In his News Letter column, Mr Robinson contrasted how Ian Paisley – the DUP’s first leader – was removed “sensitively” with the “needlessly nasty” nature of Mrs Foster’s toppling and urged Mr Poots to accept that had been a mistake.

“Politics is a rough trade and of course it must hurt if a political career is ended before the participant’s preferred time,” wrote Mr Robinson.

“But the savage slaying of a leader in the public eye was totally unnecessary and vindictive.”

He wrote that it was “counterproductive” and had “caused serious damage to the party and equally inflicted self-harm upon her successor”.

“One has to wonder what kind of strategy those advising Edwin are following when they took – and continue to take – decisions which can only damage his prospects of moving the party forward,” he added.

Mr Poots responded by saying: “The problem that Peter has is that he’s out of the loop and therefore doesn’t know exactly what was going on or what happened.

“The only thing different in how things were done when Peter became leader and when I became leader is that, actually, the people who made things public were people who were not in the Poots camp.”

On Thursday Mr Poots said he would lead DUP ministers at this month’s North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) meeting in Dublin.

He had denied boycotting some meetings in protest against the post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland, known as the Northern Ireland Procotol.

The protocol is the part of the Brexit deal that effectively creates a trade border in Irish Sea, meaning checks apply to goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

After his first meeting as DUP leader with Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Micheál Martin, Mr Poots said they had “positive, frank and useful” talks, mostly about the protocol.

Mr Martin said they had shared an “open exchange of views”.

Sinn Féin vice-president and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said it was right that DUP ministers would attend NSMC meetings, saying that was “where they should be”.

“I think [Mr Poots] was feeling the pressure clearly because it wasn’t acceptable for his party to continue in that vein,” she said on Friday.

However, TUV leader Jim Allister criticised Mr Poots’ decision and described it as a “total flip flop”.

He said members of the DUP who backed Edwin Poots and thought they were getting “strong leadership” are going to be “very disappointed”.

The DUP leader was accompanied at that meeting by close ally and senior DUP MLA Paul Givan.

Mr Givan is one of the favourites to be appointed first minister, with Mr Poots having said he will not take on the role and will instead remain agriculture minister.

Mr Givan told the BBC’s The Nolan Show that he had spoken to Mr Poots about “the kinds of responsibilities people are prepared to take on”.

“I’ve made it clear to Edwin that whatever role he wants me to do I’ve never shied away from taking on that responsibility,” he said.

“Edwin has not asked me to [become first minister] and I have not asked to do that role.

“That is ultimately a decision for Edwin to take.”

The Ulster Unionists and the Alliance Party have warned that political instability could be sparked by “dithering” over the appointment of a new first minister.

Mr Poots also attended a meeting of Stormont party leaders on Thursday at which it was agreed to convene a summit to start dealing with Northern Ireland’s hospital waiting lists crisis.

More than 335,000 people are waiting for a first consultant-led appointment, meaning Northern Ireland has the worst waiting times of any UK region.

John Compton, a former chief executive of the health service in Northern Ireland, said that solving the crisis was the biggest ever test for Stormont politicians.

“I don’t think anybody now disputes that people are having their lives curtailed or dying because of the extent of waiting times,” he told The Nolan Show.

Mr Poots said the lists had grown at a “shocking rate” between 2017 and 2020 when the power-sharing administration was not functioning due to disagreements between the DUP and Sinn Féin, the two biggest parties.

“We do recognise that the waiting lists that have been allowed to develop in Northern Ireland are entirely unreasonable,” he said.

Ms O’Neill said she had asked the UK government for financial help to deal with the waiting lists.

GMB: Union elects Gary Smith as general secretary

GMB’s Scotland secretary Gary Smith has been elected as the trade union’s new general secretary, following a ballot of its members.

Mr Smith won just over half the 61,000 votes cast, defeating rivals Rehana Azam and Giovanna Holt, who got 28% and 22% respectively.

He will succeed Tim Roache, who resigned last year after allegations about his conduct, which he has denied.

GMB is the UK’s third-largest union, with more than 600,000 members.

It represents workers in a wide range of industries, including retail, security, utilities, social care and some NHS staff.

It is also one of the three largest affiliates to the Labour Party and is a significant financial contributor to the party locally and nationally.

Following his election, Mr Smith said it would be “the honour of my life” to lead GMB, and vowed to build a “better, bigger and stronger union”.

“I joined as a 16-year-old gas apprentice and owe this union so much,” he said.

“Throughout my entire adult working life, I’ve tried to repay this huge debt by fighting hard, every day, to improve the working lives of our members.

“As general secretary, I promise to lead with the same strength and energy.”

He also pledged “shed the practices and cultures that have blighted us in recent times,” following a critical report into the union’s culture in September.

The independent review by Karon Monaghan QC called the union “institutionally sexist” and said its policies were not “sufficiently clear or robust”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer congratulated Mr Smith on his victory and praised him as “committed campaigner for the rights of workers”.

“I’m looking forward to working with Gary in his new role to continue the fight to improve the lives of working people in our country,” he added.

Karon Monaghan’s report found that “bullying, misogyny, cronyism and sexual harassment” were “endemic” in the GMB.

And it said that the union’s regional secretaries – who had always been men – held “disproportionate power”.

So on the surface, electing a male regional secretary, rather than either of the female candidates, isn’t a good look.

But straightaway Gary Smith has pledged to implement the recommendations of the Monaghan report in full.

That will keep him busy.

He has also pledged to rebuild the union from the grassroots up, with more emphasis on workplace organisation.

Keir Starmer has welcomed his election – and politically the two men are unlikely to be on a collision course.

Last year, Gary Smith refused to support attempts by Richard Leonard, the party’s previous left-wing leader in Scotland, to stay in office – despite Mr Leonard’s membership of the GMB, and his former career as a union official.

Mr Smith said “our members would not thank us for getting bogged down in an internal Scottish Labour party issue”.

But some believe privately he helped persuade Mr Leonard to go – an outcome welcomed by the Labour leadership at Westminster.

St Davids bishop apologises for never trust a Tory tweet

A Welsh bishop has issued an apology after tweeting: “Never, never, never trust a Tory.”

The Bishop of St Davids, Dr Joanna Penberthy, said she had closed her personal account on the social media platform after a flurry of complaints.

Dr Penberthy made the comment after reposting a message about perceived threats to devolution in Wales.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies told the Church in Wales: “All told, this is not a good look.”

The bishop posted the comment on Twitter on 25 May, with about 300 comments replying – many angry about her view.

Leading Leave Brexit campaigner and Conservative commentator Darren Grimes responded: “All of the Conservative voters who look to you for spiritual direction deserve so much better.”

Mark Wallace, the chief executive of the Tory news site ConservativeHome, added: “Lucky you don’t have a job that supposedly involves understanding others… oh wait.”

The bishop has been a prolific poster on the social media site, under the name: Joanna Penberthy WeAreRemain #GTTO #FBPE.

The abbreviations stand for Get The Tories Out and Follow Back Pro European.

In a statement, Dr Penberthy said: “On 25 March 2021, I put out a private tweet about Conservative Party supporters which has caused offence and for which I sincerely apologise.

“I acknowledge that while there may be those within the Conservative Party who oppose Welsh devolution, it is not the policy of the Conservative Party to abolish the Senedd and I should have checked all the facts before tweeting.

“I, of course, trust and have trusted many Conservatives and know there are many honourable people in that party.”

The bishop then apologised for other tweets she had posted “which may have caused upset and offence”.

She added: “While I hold strong political views, I have expressed them on Twitter in a way which was both irresponsible and disrespectful and I deeply regret this.”

In two final posts on Twitter, she stressed her views were personal and confirmed she was closing the account, adding: “I do not make political statements on behalf of the Church in Wales or the Diocese of St Davids.”

The bishop’s diocese of St Davids is home to the UK’s Welsh Secretary Simon Hart, the MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire Stephen Crabb, and also former Tory leader in the Senedd Paul Davies, as well as new Conservative Senedd member Sam Kurtz in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire.

Andrew RT Davies added: “The many divisive and intolerant views pushed out from this very public account by the Bishop of St Davids will be troubling to many of her parishioners in west Wales.”

The Church in Wales said the Bishop of St Davids’ “strong political views are well known”, and recognised she had apologised.

“The Church in Wales expects all its clergy to engage robustly in public life,” said an official.

“However, they need to do so in a way which is respectful, responsible and fair, acknowledging the breadth and diversity of political opinion within the church.

“We do not support intemperate claims or poorly-informed commentary and we urge all clergy to recognise that, as public office holders, there should be no expectation that personal views will be regarded as private.”

Your stories: Out-of-hours work emails

Calls for a ban on out-of-hours work emails have generated a lot of debate among our readers.

The right to disconnect has been law for four years in France, where companies are asked to set agreed “specific hours” for “teleworkers”.

Ireland also brought in a code of practice last month, under which employers should add “footers and pop-up messages to remind employees… that there is no requirement to reply to emails out of hours”.

The Prospect trade union, whose members include managers, civil servants, engineers and scientists, wants the UK government to set out similar protections in its Employment Bill, expected to be published later this year.

Many readers agreed with the proposal, while others felt that it would not be practical, or desirable.

Here is a selection of your views.

Bob Hallewell, who works for a company which advises businesses on electronic communication, says email “is a common problem which is easily solved”.

“We all know how to send lots of copies, but we don’t know how not to send.

“It’s a common problem because people don’t necessarily think about what the whole effect of their message is going to be on the recipient.”

He says people send messages on a Sunday evening to finish their to-do list, but “the person who gets it thinks, “Dear Lord, am I supposed to be answering emails on a Sunday evening as well?”

“The easy way out is for the organisation to agree common standards,” he says, “and one of the most useful standards is “what is the expected response time for emails?”

Rachel Habergham works in the public sector and thinks banning emails outside office hours “would set us back years”.

“People need to be able to email at a time that works for them” if the UK wants an inclusive workforce, she says, “the key is everyone respecting that”.

“Not everyone should feel as though they have to reply. This can be done in many ways including simple messages on e-mail signatures.

“Banning out-of-office emails will just further disadvantage people who are carers, parents or disabled.”

A woman who works for the civil service in London told us the organisation “has pretty clear expectations around number of hours worked, but flexibility to work when you like”.

“I often leave work early then pick up work later in the evening,” she says, adding that she has an email signature which says she does not expect a response outside normal working hours.

“As long as you set an expectation for your team that they don’t need to respond then I think it’s OK.”

She said in her previous private sector jobs, “they do expect you to be super-responsive,” so it’s all about the “culture” of a company.

Richard Andrews is retired, but used to work in banking. He says there are “serious compromises that would be needed”.

He says he worked a 35-hour-week but would often deal with emails after returning home, between 80 and 100 daily.

He thinks this “quite likely contributed to a stroke I suffered five years ago,” which led him to voluntary retirement.

“I estimate I was paid for approximately 75% of the actual hours worked.

“Whilst no one is indispensable there is peer pressure, management and board pressure to get the job done and I’m sad to admit that, at times, it felt at any cost.”

Phil Coldicott, a retired IT manager, says emails were a “fundamental element” of his job.

He says he doesn’t “see any need to suppress email output, as it reflects when people wish to work”.

His team worked flexibly, but he says he preferred early starts while others preferred to work very late.

He says his team didn’t look at emails until they were back at their desks.

“I had a boss who used to send emails between midnight and 0100 every day. That’s the way he worked.

“You didn’t have to respond to them. Some people work in different ways, and we just have to accommodate.”

“It’s a question of time management,” he tells us, “I can’t see why regulation is necessary to be honest.”

Kent council in child migrant legal threat to Home Secretary

Child migrants arriving at Dover may be turned away by Kent County Council (KCC) within days as its services are overwhelmed, the authority has said.

KCC has taken its first steps in legal action against Home Secretary Priti Patel and wants her to make other councils take “their fair share”.

It comes days after Ms Patel lost a High Court legal fight over the Napier Barracks asylum centre in Folkestone.

The Home Office said it continued to encourage more areas to do their part.

Bridget Chapman, of Kent Refugee Action Network, said local authorities across the country would be willing to take child asylum-seekers into care if the government provided greater funding.

“Councils aren’t going to accept the responsibility without it being funded properly,” she said.

“These young people are incredible,” she said. “With the right foundation they are going to contribute an enormous amount to our communities.”

Conservative council leader Roger Gough said it was “a repeat of the same crisis of nine months ago”, when services for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children reached breaking point.

With more young people arriving this year compared to last, he said the pressures were “severe”.

He told the BBC: “We are now in a situation which is not sustainable, and we do not wish to… suspend our legal duties, but that is very close to where we are,” he added.

So far this year, 242 lone child migrants have arrived on Kent shores and been passed to children’s services, but only 52 have been moved to other local authorities under a voluntary transfer scheme, KCC said.

It said the authority is now caring for 403 unaccompanied minors – nearly double the number the government said it was safe to have.

Mr Gough wants the existing voluntary transfer scheme to be compulsory, because “those others who do not participate frankly put a lot of pressure those who do”.

A proposed judicial review claims there has been a “refusal and/or continuing failure by the Home Secretary to exercise her powers to prepare a mandatory scheme”.

Mr Gough said: “We have not seen what is most needed: a robust National Transfer Scheme that prevents port authorities such as Kent coming under unmanageable pressure.”

He said Kent would no longer be able to safely accept new arrivals before the end of the week.

From that point, Border Force will be asked to place youngsters directly into other local authorities around the country from Dover port.

Roger Gale, the Conservative MP for North Thanet, said: “Kent basically is now full. We cannot safely take any more, so the Home Secretary has got to do something about it.”

He said Ms Patel faced two questions. “Why has nothing been done over the last nine months? And what is she going to do about it?” he asked.

KCC has served a formal Letter Before Action to the Home Office.

The council said without any substantive response to its proposals by 17 June, it would issue a claim for judicial review.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “We recognise the longstanding role that Kent County Council has played in supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and are extremely grateful for their contribution.

“We continue to encourage more areas to join the National Transfer Scheme and do their part.

“We have already consulted on how to improve the scheme to make it fairer, the outcome of which will be published very shortly.”

While there was a rise in young migrants entering KCC’s care last year, the total number of unaccompanied children seeking asylum across the UK fell by more than 1,300.

From April 2020 to March 2021, 2,044 asylum claims were made by lone children, compared to 3,530 in the previous 12 months. The majority of asylum-seeking children arrive with their families, Home Office figures show.

The number of people reaching the UK in small boats rose in 2020 due to a reduction in flights and ferries during the pandemic, but the “overall organised immigration crime threat reduced”, the National Crime Agency has said.

“According to the Home Office, numbers are down on last year, but the method of arrival has changed and it’s just more visible,” Ms Chapman said.

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